Hike the Independence Trail

Lake Tahoe Independence Trail

Added by Kelly Sanders

  • The Independence Trail is the country's first recognized wheelchair accessible wilderness trail!
  • Distance: If you want to do the entire trail from the west starting point to the eastern end it is a total of 3.1 miles. Wheelchair accessible for 1.5 miles.
  • Independence Trail West 1.0 miles
  • Independence Trail East 2.1 miles
  • Duration: 45 min-2 hours each way
  • Elevation gain: ~50 feet
  • Type of trail: can be done out and back or as a loop in the western portion.
  • A loop back from the river at the end of the East trail on Hoyte's Trail to the highway 49 bridge crossing can also be done as an alternative return route. Distance: 0.9 miles

Starting from the free easy access parking lot right off highway 49 you head left up the trail. You will notice two trails side by side, one wider path for wheelchair access and another slightly narrower path for hikers on foot.

The trail is set on the cliff side overlooking the South Fork of the Yuba River and has many scenic view points along the way. Much of the trail is shaded by lush vegetation and wildflowers during the spring so you are somewhat protected from the hot sun. As the path continues you gain about 10 feet per mile or about 50 feet total but the elevation gain is barely noticeable and the trail remains well maintained and fairly flat.

You will cross over several man made foot bridges and under one natural stone arch which makes for a fun and engaging atmosphere.

There are a few picnic spots along the way with a picnic table if you choose to have your lunch or a snack at this point. Otherwise at the end of the East Independence Trail you can take the trail to the left (or down hill) to access the river. This part of the trail is somewhat steep and sliding at some points is prone. Overall a manageable descent and the reward is definitely worth while.

Once at the river side you can choose to claim a spot right off the trailhead or do a little rock scrambling up or down river to get a more secluded spot and your own pools to swim in. Bathing suits are optional at this swim spot so enjoy some much needed sun soaking or remember to pack a pair of shades!

When you've had enough, you can retrace your steps or head across stream and hike back along the trail on the opposite shore, which is Hoyte's Trail and will lead you back to the highway 49 bridge crossing. From there hike back along the road to the Independence Trail parking lot about a half mile.

Don't forget to stop in the charming Nevada City on your way home to enjoy the historic downtown setting, occasional live music, many fine restaurants and sweet treat shops where you can splurge on artisan chocolates and ice cream after a hot day in the sun!

Pack List

  • Day pack
  • Water
  • Beverages and snacks or packed lunch
  • Sunscreen
  • Camera
  • Waterproof case (optional)
  • Bathing suit (optional)
  • Water shoes and snorkel (optional)
  • Climbing shoes for routes along the river (optional)
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Chillin, Hiking, Photography, Rock Climbing, Swimming

Skill Level:



Spring, Summer, Autumn



Dog Friendly
Easy Parking
Family Friendly
Handicap Accessible
Picnic Area
Swimming Hole

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How to Get There

about 2 months ago

Gentle, Shaded, And Magical

We took the East side of the trail and it was a gentle, hike, carved out with trees on both sides. There are several small bridges and some longer more elaborate and impressive bridges. So much work and love was put into this trail to make it wheelchair accessible. We got to the end of the trail, and then rock scrambled down toward the water. A bit treacherous to hike down, and hard on the thighs on the way back up, but so worth it. Hung out by a waterfall with a man made tunnel to the other side of the trail. Stunning views, and great spots to stop and relax sling the way

about 2 months ago

7 months ago

I Love This Spot!

I make it a point to come here once a year. It's probably my favorite river access (which might just mean I don't get out enough). The water is good for natural water slides, too. We always pack some food and find some big rock in the shade and hang out.

7 months ago

about 1 year ago

Good trail, awful parking

This is a great trail for all levels of hiking capability and is especially good for families with small children. But parking is a nightmare, as it is very limited and along a busy road. I recommend getting to the trail head early or avoiding hot summer days when the area draws large crowds to the nearby swimming holes.

about 1 year ago

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